Building an inclusive culture: Our start-up story

The Need:

When our team size was small, one could communicate with the other regularly which made everyone understand each other. We never felt the need to have a consciously defined process for culture building. As we started growing as a team, it physically became difficult for the whole team to stay in touch with each other as some team members would be at different locations, some busy in meetings, some on field trips etc. It started becoming obvious that we needed to find a way to articulate better, communicate our values and start the culture building process.

Our team is an interesting mix of people coming from diverse backgrounds: Engineers, product designers, medical professionals, public health researchers, sociologists, marketeers and management professionals. How we approach projects and deal with each other varies significantly with educational backgrounds apart from socio-economic aspects of an individual’s upbringing. While we could articulate our values well, we were struggling with how to ensure those remain intact as we scale. After an intense peer consultation with Acumen Fellows, we had a realization that cultural values of an organization should also influence the hiring process, the communication around the job description and needs to be set-in order from the beginning.

We built a hiring tool which a lot of people found interesting, thus I sharing my thoughts here in this blog.

Concept and Process:

Most hiring processes start with skill-based interviews or aptitude/technical tests, then moving to gauging abilities (eg. Learning attitude etc.) and then to value alignment. Hiring is a cumbersome process and finding a candidate suitable for a specific role is almost always urgent. So, in the above process, we tend to compromise on value alignment to prioritize hiring.

Hiring technique

Ray Dalio (Founder, Bridgewater Capital, philanthropist and supporter of our work through Acumen Angels) mentions in his book, Principles that-skills are learned tools that can be acquired, but values and abilities are unlikely to change. Values are important because they are key to long-term relationships within the team. Abilities are a prerequisite to value-based hiring, as the person you bring on board has to be able to pick up the necessary skills. For example, hiring an extrovert who prefers to be client-facing to complete back-office tasks is not a long-term solution.

Sounds perfect, right? But we wanted to have a quick, cost effective way to do the above. We listed down the sets of values that were critical for being a part of the Saral team. There can be a long list for this, but we wanted to only restrict ourselves to the core values that can’t be compromised at any cost for the organization to truly represent what it stands for. These core values for Saral Designs are as below:

Company Values

With above values in place, we divided the questionnaire into Values, Attributes, Skills and Basic logistical requirements.

To also keep the process cost and time effective, we have 4 rounds of interviews having the above 4 criteria tested in different combinations:

  1. Telephonic round: To test basic fit for values and basic logistical requirements
  2. Case study/ Assignment round: To test skills and abilities seriousness for the role (willingness to invest time in the interview process)
  3. Face to Face interview: To test on values and attributes
  4. Additional aptitude/ technical test: To test technical and skill fit

While there are enough tests for skills and abilities that one can find all over the internet, the most interesting part of designing the entire process is the value-based filter.

It’s not effective to ask whether an employee thinks women have the same rights as men because the correct answer is too obvious. Instead, more nuanced question is, for instance, that presents a scenario of inequality, and asks how the employee would behave in it, are more useful for identifying whether the candidates are indeed feminists, or just playing the part in the interview. The questions also draw from news and current affairs, trying to gauge the candidates opinions on socially-divisive issues.

hiring questions

As an interviewer, one also gets to learn more about the candidate in a short frame of time on where they come from, what motivates them and ability to introspect. Of course, while the values, requirements and objectives of each organization are different, but sharing this concept opens conversations around workplace sexism and building a more inclusive work culture. Also, if you are not in HR or don’t run an organization, this process can also be relevant for you to way to understand the inclusiveness of the Company you work in or your friend circle. Sharing this concept will also help us make the process better. I will be more than pleased to read your comments or feedback on my email id:

Author: Suhani MohanCEO, Saral Designs
Suhani is an Acumen India Fellow, recognized as 2018’s top 25 trailblazing Indian women by Forbes, recipient of India Africa Young Visionary award from Ministry of External Affairs, India, recipient of ‘Top woman entrepreneur’ at Empower, by Department of Science and Technology & Zone Start-ups, and winner of the National Entrepreneurship Award 2016 by Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship.
With 3 years of investment banking experience at Deutsche Bank, Suhani holds a bachelor’s degree in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science with a minor in Electrical Engineering from IIT Bombay and is a CFA (Level I).
Suhani teaches finance at Startup School of KJ Somaiya and has been a guest lecturer at Vivekanand Education Society’s Institute of Management Studies And Research. She has also been a speaker at forum’s like UBS Philanthropy Forum at Switzerland, Acumen Plus at San Francisco, Start-up Saturday Mumbai, Jagriti Yatra, Abhyuday IIT Bombay on topics of social entrepreneurship, women in entrepreneurship and social impact.